Bucs' bats quiet in drama-free series opener vs. Crew
Cole hits Brewers' Gomez, but division rivals show composure
MILWAUKEE -- It didn't lead to a reprisal of the benches-clearing confrontation from April 20 when Gerrit Cole struck Carlos Gomez with a pitch in the third inning Tuesday -- it was a changeup, after all -- but it did lead to the go-ahead run when the Brewers defeated the Pirates at Miller Park, 5-2.
The much-ballyhooed first meeting between the two clubs since an Easter Sunday fracas in Pittsburgh ended not with a bang, but a whimper, when the Pirates struggled to land a big hit despite several opportunities. Jonathan Lucroy's two-out single in the third plated Gomez and Logan Schafer, and the Brewers scratched across insurance runs in the sixth and seventh.
Cole (3-3) immediately showed frustration after releasing the errant offspeed pitch that struck Gomez, and neither side looked particularly interested in revisiting the events of April, when Cole took exception to Gomez's exuberant reaction leaving the batter's box after hitting a triple.
"He gave me a head nod with the first at-bat and I gave him one back," said Cole, who showed flashes of excellence despite allowing 11 baserunners in 5 2/3 innings. "I've read his comments, and I'm sure he's read mine. I think pretty much everybody is on the same page about this, you know? I think we've all moved on.
"That kind of tension, that kind of extra adrenaline you get is good, but at the same time, sometimes you just want to forget about it and go out and play, which I think is what they did. I think it's what we did, too. It happened, and we moved on. I think everybody knows I goosed the changeup pretty good there, and that's what happens sometimes."
Lucroy dumped an RBI looper to right three batters later as outfielder Josh Harrison -- playing in right while Starling Marte nurses his way back from back stiffness -- got a late break on the ball.
"My position from where it was hit, I would have had to go right off the bat," Harrison said. "The ball was carrying a little bit today and the little hesitation was [because] I didn't want to give up anything over my head, and it ended up being a [single]. Just a little hesitation."
The Pirates were unable to muster an answer despite opportunities against Brewers starter Marco Estrada (3-1). Pittsburgh fell to 16-22, 8 1/2 games back of division-leading Milwaukee, but it wasn't for lack of baserunners. The Pirates had at least one in every inning but the ninth, when Francisco Rodriguez locked down his 16th save, but finished 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
"We try to remind our guys the pressure is on the pitcher," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "There are guys out there in scoring position. Stay with your discipline, stay with your approach, look for a ball over the plate. When you get to two strikes, just battle."
Rickie Weeks added an insurance run with an infield single up the middle, expediting Cole's departure with two down in the sixth. He allowed seven hits and three walks in that window with six strikeouts.
"I had some opportunities to finish some guys off, and I didn't," Cole said. "I had some opportunities to locate the fastball better, and I didn't. Those are the things you try to work on over the next five days and try to maintain your delivery no matter the situation presents."
Despite the loss, Cole's changeup was particularly effective.
"It's been coming along," he said. "Sometimes the way things play out, when something's working for you during the game, you don't go away from it. Sometimes I haven't really had the opportunity to take that risk [with the change], but tonight it showed up early and we were able to stay with it and get some strikes on right-handers with it and get some swings and misses from left-handers."
Added Hurdle, "The day will come -- and it already has, on occasion -- where he's going to hand the ball to the closer. He just needs to pitch, get reps, get innings of experience and continue to throw his pitches, face different lineups and challenges. He had to do some yard work a couple times with men on base, and it showed up well."
A sacrifice fly and a single that glanced off the leg of reliever Jared Hughes brought across another two Brewers runs in the seventh. Gaby Sanchez delivered an RBI double against reliever Will Smith in the eighth, the lone hit with runners in scoring position.
Neil Walker, who hit his eighth home run of 2013 on Aug. 20, hit his eighth home run of this season in the first inning against Estrada to spot the Pirates a 1-0 lead.
"He's getting good pitches to hit, putting good swings on them," Hurdle said of Walker. "I do think this winter was a winter he was able to work on getting stronger and not rehab. I think that's played into it as well."
Walker leads National League second basemen with 23 RBIs.
The Pirates worked Estrada for a season-high 112 pitches, but when Ike Davis grounded into a first-pitch double play to end the sixth, Estrada only needed 10 for his final frame.
Davis, who had gone 10-for-18 over his preceding five games, finished the night 0-for-3 with a throwing error before being lifted for Sanchez in the eighth.
Jordy Mercer reached base three times, Jose Tabata posted three hits and Harrison added two hits. Pedro Alvarez drew a walk and has reached base safely in 15 of 16 starts.